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Three ways to teach sustainability

Thursday, 18 February 2016
Lauren Weller, Countryside Classroom

Sustainability is a complex term that can be applied to lots of different areas, making it a challenging but exciting topic to cover in the classroom.

“Sustainability is...development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Brundtland (1987)

It is also hugely important across Countryside Classroom's core themes of food, farming and the natural environment. How can we produce enough food to feed the global population, and keep on doing that for many years to come? How can we ensure that natural habitats and wildlife are protected and enhanced? How can we reduce and clean the waste and pollution we produce?

These questions are important for politicians, businesses and individuals around the world, but also for your pupils, as their knowledge and attitudes will eventually shape the world around them. Here are three ways to teach sustainability this year:

Teach about...soil quality. We need to produce more food to feed a growing population, but the planet's soils are already under a lot of pressure. Will it be possible to increase productivity and improve soil condition? Teach about...energy use and production in farming. Farmers need energy to power machinery, and in some cases they also produce it by growing crops such as miscanthus or building solar farms. Will farming need more, or less energy in the future? Will we need the land used for energy crops to grow food? Teach about...species decline. Bees play an important role in our lives, but human activity is contributing to their decline. How can we protect and grow their population without reducing or risking our own development.

Case Study

100 Pupils from 18 schools in the St Albans area attended a Sustainable Schools Training Day at the Farmschool at Annables Farm in Harpenden.

The aim of the event was for schools to learn what they could do to make their schools more sustainable by learning from each other and local organisations, including the Farmschool. During the day the participants attended workshops on sustainability themes including waste, energy, food and farming and Fairtrade. The workshops were all hands on and participants left with lots of ideas for activities that they could take back to their schools.

Farmer Ian Pigott was able to relate to the children how every decision made on his farm is centred around sustainability. On a tractor and trailer tour of the farm Ian explained his use of precision farming, zero tillage and cover crops to the children. Seeing how these things were improving the soil, reducing fuel, pesticide, water and fertiliser use the children were very quick to grasp how important it is that farming and food production focuses on sustainability.

One of the secondary pupils who attended said: “I really enjoyed today as I got to learn so much that I wouldn’t be able to learn in school. It has given me a big opportunity to follow my dream and tell everyone at school everything I have learned”. Organiser of the day, and FACE Trustee Helen Cox commented: “Today was a fantastic example of what can be achieved when local people work together. I hope that it will be the catalyst of many new sustainability initiatives in our schools over the coming year.

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